Yesterday's post about useful iPad apps for students stirred up lots of interesting discussion, including debates over whether a tablet was a better choice for a student than a notebook PC. But there's one thread in the conversation I do take issue with: the idea that you shouldn't have any form of technology at a lecture, because you'll only get distracted.
Picture by Bryan Ochalla
Marty stated that argument pretty bluntly:
Realistically a tablet or a laptop only serves one purpose at university – to procrastinate.
Similar comments have been made in the past when we've discussed using technology at university. I don't doubt that you can waste a lot of time on a tablet or a notebook. But I very seriously doubt that the people wasting time that way would automatically become more productive students simply by switching to pen and paper. They would just find another way to waste time. Technology enables that behaviour; I'm not persuaded it causes it.
I went to university so long ago that I was the only student in my entire faculty who actually had a notebook PC (which in turn was so basic it didn't actually have a hard drive). I didn't take that machine to lectures; it was used just for writing. But the fact that writing things done was the only way to take notes did not stop people from procrastinating.
In any given lecture, there would be people doodling, playing boxes or noughts and crosses, passing notes or just zoning out. I was a fairly studious type, but if I thought the lecture was rubbish I would often find myself idly writing poetry or otherwise doing entirely non-academic tasks.
The point is that if you don't want to work hard, you won't work hard. Blaming the technology is just a way of avoiding the unpleasant reality: you're lazy. Pen and paper won't save you from procrastinating and wasting time, and you won't have automatic backups or searchable notes. If I went back to university, I know that's what I'd want.